Last updated: March 22, 2018
Niobrara Historical Brevity
July 1, 1986
From "Niobrara Historical Brevity" published by the
Niobrara Historical Society, in observance of the Lusk Centennial 1886-1986
The community of Lance Creek is located 19 miles north of Manville on Highway 270. Originally a cattle ranching area, Lance Creek Oil Field became the largest producing oil field in the Rocky Mountain Region. Several wells were drilled in the area and abandoned. Ohio Oil Co. found the first oil sand on March 13, 1918. It yielded 80 barrels of oil the first 24 hours. They resumed drilling and on Oct. 6, 1918, they brought in the first well known as the discovery well. It flowed at the rate of 1500 barrels.
This discovery brought an immediate boom and derricks sprang up everywhere. Some of the oil companies operating in the field were: Ohio Oil (later Marathon), Midwest Oil Co., The Western State Oil and Land Co., The Buck Creek Oil Co. (later Mutual and now Continental), Texas Co., The General Petroleum Co., The Wyo-Montana Co., later Union oil acquired holdings in the field.
As the rush started, rigs and camp equipment were hauled in, freighting was heavy as the trucks then were able to haul only 3 tons to the load. Many horse teams and wagons were pressed into services. In a four day period 1,110,000# of freight were moved from Lusk alone. The pipeline was started in 1919. Men working around the clock hired women to wait in line at the post office for their mail. Gas wells resulted in the J. M. Huber Corp. building the Carbon Black Plant. The plant was built in 1916-27 and many businesses were built nearby including a cook shack where men could get a hot meal. It was torn down in 1941.
Many camps made up the Lance Creek Community. There were the Leo, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Argo, Rocky Mt., Carbon Black, Bell, Consolidated, Union, Western State, Minnelusa, Midwest, Continental Gas Plant and Production (later known as Ohio or Marathon), Illinois, Tank Farm, Buck Creek, Mosierville and Ohio #1 through #7 camps in addition to the main one - The Gate-way which is still in existence.
At its peak of operation, there were 1500 people living in the Lance Creek Community.
In March 1935 Ohio Oil Co. (who had continued drilling deeper wells) completed a well that produced over 2000 barrels daily. Ohio, Continental and Argo drilled more basal Sundance wells. The Continental Oil Co. had just erected a modern gasoline extraction plant to extract the high gasoline content of the oil, thus giving more royalty to the already fortunate landowner.
One Story is told about a gentleman who owned land in the Lance Creek area during the original oil boom and things started looking rosy for him. Shoes had been hard to buy, his home was the same as other homesteaders, his cupboard often looked like Mother Hubbards, but still he plugged on. When the boom began he place a price upon his land but while he was battling with his better judgment, drillers brought in a water well close by and at the time, the oil companies backed away. In 1935 drilling experts knew how to shut the water flow off and go about looking for oil. On the same land he prized so highly during the 1918-1919 boom , he finally got his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and spread his cheer among the men who helped bring the well in. He presented each of the sixteen men with a fine Stetson hat of his choice. It was the largest single order of Stetsons ever made in the state of Wyoming.
In the meantime, the road between Lusk and Lance Creek was upgraded and traveling was made easier.
In 1938 the four inch pipeline being laid for Continental Oil Co. from Lance Creek to Glenrock was completed. An 8 inch pipeline between Lance Creek and Cheyenne and a 6 inch pipeline from Cheyenne to Denver was built.
Continental, Ohio and Argo Oil Companies drilled water wells and a plentiful supply of good water now supplied the community. A 6000 barrel storage tank 48 feet high was built on a hill west of Gateway.
In October of 1941 there was a complete shutdown by the major companies. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Niobrara Co. and Lance Creek swung into emergency action and drilling picked up.
Production started dwindling and the 1950's saw many being transferred to oil fields in other regions. As people moved out, so did the houses and little remains of the many camps that made up the community.
Electric lights came in 1949, various oil companies had phones but in 1961 phones were available to the public. There have been numerous schools in this area. There were two schools in 1943-the East and West Lance Creek Schools. Near where Highway 270 and 272 are now known, a 2 year high school was started in 1925 and in 1935 the 11th grade was added. Niobrara County Schools were consolidated in 1954 and now many students are bused to Lusk.
A Sunday School was started in 1934. A small frame house was moved to a site just southeast of Gateway. "The Little Chapel on The Hill" served as a church for 17 years. Various ministers have served the Lance Creek Community Church. St. Leo's Catholic Church also served the community for many years.
The Post Office was established Nov. 19, 1919 with Frances J. Ragen as postmaster. Other post offices in the area were: Deuel-Warren F. Deuel-March 1918; Dogie-Reta Butler Swope and Leverett-Charles A Johnson-1923. The post office is still active in 1986. Lance Creek did not have a bank - there were numerous cafes, barber shops, beauty parlors, mechanic shops, grocery stores, filling and service stations, cold storage plant, lumber companies, hardware and feed store, drug stores, turkey farm, grade A dairies, laundry, shoe repair shop, trucking companies, construction companies, and oil well cementing co., a 5 and 10, several bars and a beer parlor. Those seeking recreation could play golf, tennis, shoot at the rifle range, go roller skating and ice skating, see a movie, go bowling, play pool or it you had a plane, Lance Creek has it's own airport. Organizations in the field were: Girl and Boy Scouts, Black Gold and Sagebrush extension clubs, Tanglefoot Square Dance Club, The Three Link Club, Lance Creek Lodge #13 I.O.O.F. (founded 12/15/1939), Black Gold Rebekah Lodge #22 (March 9, 1940) - in later years with too few members, they joined lodges in Lusk.
There have been many tragedies, numerous accidents, explosions and fires and tornadoes have claimed many lives over the years. Many buildings were lost to fires because the closest fire protection was Lusk.
In 1986 Lance Creek has between 75 to 100 inhabitants.
The Lusk Herald
April 21, 1927
Lance Creek P.O. and Store Burn
The H. J. Templeton general store and the postoffice building at Lance Creek, 30 miles north of Lusk, were completely destroyed by fire last Thursday night, when the roof of the Templeton building caved in under the weight of the heavy snow, and the bursting gas pipes set fire to the building.
The building and stock of the Templeton store were a complete loss. The postoffice, which was housed in the back part of the store, was also a complete loss, together with all the records, only a few damaged stamps being saved.
The building and stock were insured, but it is believed the loss will be several thousand dollars above the actual insurance carried. The stock carried was about $20,000.
As the Templeton store was the only food supply house within a radius of several miles, for a time it was feared that the residents of Lance Creek faced a serious food famine, only about three days' supply of groceries being on hand among the residents of the town.
A road was finally broken to the Buck Creek camp by the big carbon black truck and several oil company trucks, which relieved the situation.
By cooperation between County Commissioner Lee Shrum and Postmaster R.A. Faulk of Lusk, mail and provisions were sent to Lance Creek Saturday afternoon with the big ten-ton county tractor pulling a trailer heavily loaded.
On its return trip the tractor pulled back into Lusk the carbon black truck and another truck which had exhausted their gasoline supply in buckling the heavy snow. This broke the road sufficiently so that the return trip could be made by the trucks with supplies.
It is not known at this time what action Mr. Templeton will take toward rebuilding the building which was destroyed, but it is generally understood that the store will continue business and that a new building will be started as soon as the weather will permit hauling supplies to Lance Creek.
The Lusk Herald
July 9, 1986
Lance Creek 'proved' in 1918
Lance Creek Field, 20 miles north of Lusk, was proved in October, 1918, with the completion of a well which flowed 1500 barrels daily.
The Lusk Herald on October 10, 1918 carried the following:
"L-U-S-K, which was temporarily placed on the map of the United States during a feverish oil boom last spring, has now been put there permanently and riveted down to prevent any future relapse.
"The Lusk oil field has been proved by the bringing in of a well which is in reality a 'gusher.' The well at last account was flowing at the rate of 1,500 barrels for the 24 hours. This is good news to Lusk people who have had unwavering confidence that the reputation of the field would be established. It is freely predicted that three or four more wells will be brought in this month and a real boom will be on."
The Lusk Herald
July 9, 1986
Oil boom prompts formation of town: Rise and fall of Lance Creek
by Gloria Vogel Johnson
Gas from three wells in Cow Gulch in June 1917 heralded the Lance Creek boom. Up till then, the area was noted mainly for the raising of cattle but little did anyone dream that in years to come, the Lance Creek Oil Field would be the largest producing field in the Rocky Mountain region of high grade crude oil and the fourth largest field in the United States.
As early as 1912, Dr. Hawthorne made an effort by advertising to obtain the necessary funds needed to drill a hole on Buck Creek. He failed to interest anyone but on April 19, 1913, the Lusk, Wyoming Oil Company was founded. Consulting L. W. Trumbull, state geologist, the company decided to drill a hole in the extreme northeast corner of Sec. 15, T. 36, North, Range 65 West. By June 1914, a depth of 2,250 feet had been reached but funds were exhausted. A California Company decided to finish the hole but did not drill deeper than 2,600 feet.
After several unsuccessful drilling attempts, things began to change for the better. Dr. Hawthorne procured a lease from the state in Sec. 36, T. 6N., Range 65 West and subleased it for a period of seven months to the California Co. represented by H. A. Rispin. The lease was extended for five months. Later, Hawthorne obtained another lease and subleased the tract to the Ohio Oil Co. A standard rig was erected and drilling commenced on September 37, 1917. The drill penetrated the first oil sand at a depth of 2,689 ft. on March 13, 1918, yielding 80 barrels of oil during the first 24 hours.
The company resumed drilling in April and reached the principal oil sand at 3,663 on Oct. 6, 1918 bringing in the first well known as the Discovery well, flowing at the rate of 1,500 barrels. While the discovery well was drilled on state land, the bulk of the acreage of the structure consisted of homestead land. This discovery of oil brought on an immediate boom and derricks sprung up everywhere.
A portion of the western part of the field however is public domain and was covered with placer claims which were later taken up as permits under the Governmental Oil and Gas Leasing Act of Feb. 15, 1920. In addition to the Ohio (later known as marathon), other operators who made entrance to the field were the Midwest Oil Company, The Western States Oil and Land Co., The Buck Creek Oil Co. (later the Mutual and now Continental), The Texas Co., General Petroleum Company and the Wyoming-Montana Co.
As the rush started, rigs and camp equipment were hauled in. Freighting was heavy as the trucks then were only able to haul three tons to the load. Teams of horses and wagons were pressed into service. In a four day period, 1,100,000 pounds of freight were moved from Lusk alone. A pipeline was begun in 1919. Men, working around the clock, hired women to wait in line at the post office for their mail. Gas wells resulted in the J. M. Huber Corporation building the Carbon Black Plant.
Gas fire in 1924
One of the larger of numerous fires over the years occurred in January 1924 when Union's big gasser ignited when the cap was removed during a test of the well. The heavy pressure lifted a rock or some other projectile that came in contact with the crown block which created a spark. Flames shot high into the sky and the roar of the fire could be heard for miles. 40,000,000 cubic feet of gas went up in smoke daily for ten days before the blazing well was the given the steam pressure became sufficient, it was played upon the flames.(sic) This too failed and it (w)as then that 60 pounds of dynamite hit the flame, it exploded and smothered the fire.
The road between Manville and Lance Creek was made impassable in March 1923 with the heavy snows drifting (on) the 77 hill. A large group of business men helped open the road by voluntarily assisting in shoveling a passageway thru the snow. Ranchers and oil company employees started at the base of the hill and worked upwards.
The H. J. Templeton grocery store, that also housed the post office at Lance Creek, burned to the ground in a blizzard in April 1927. The heavy, wet snows caused the roof to collapse, and the bursting gas pipes set fire to the building. As this was the only food supply house for miles, the community of 300 people were without a source of food.
A road was finally broke through the 10 and 15 foot drifts to the Buck Creek camp where there was a two-day supply of food by the big Carbon Black truck and several other oil company trucks. A ten-ton caterpillar tractor pulling a trailer heavily loaded with supplies made the 300-mile trip to Lance Creek in 19 hours. On its return trip to Lusk, the tractor pulled the big Carbon Black truck and another truck which had exhausted their fuel supply bucking the heavy snows. This broke the road enough so the trucks could make it back to Lance Creek with more supplies.
The fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Roundup of 1884 of the Spaugh 77 Ranch and the OW Ranch (Converse Cattle Company), one of the famous cattle ranches at that time, was celebrated July 4, 1934. A rodeo, baseball game, boxing and dancing were enjoyed. Every paid admission was entitled to a free barbecue. Attendance was estimated at more than 1500 persons.
Stetsons for the crew
While many stories could be told about those making it in the oil business, it took one who had known many trials and hardships and knew the meaning of extremes. Otto Rohiff owned land in the Lance Creek area during the original oil boom and things started to look rosy for him. Shoes for the kids had been hard to buy, his home was the same as other homesteaders, his cupboards often looked like Mother Hubbard's, but still he plugged on.
When the boom began, Ott placed a price upon his land but while he was battling with his conscience drillers brought in a water well close by and at that time the oil companies backed away like he had leprosy. The year 1935 finally rolled around and drilling experts knew how to shut the water flow off and go about looking for the liquid gold they called oil and they did get it this time, on the same land he prized so highly during the 1918-1919 boom.
He finally got his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and spread his cheer among the men who had helped bring the well in. He presented each of the 16 men with a fine Stetson hat of his choice. It was the largest single order of Stetsons ever made in the state of Wyoming.
In the fall of 1930, the Ohio Co. decided to take a deeper look in the earth's crust. They discovered oil in the upper sand zone of the Sundance formation in their Converse-Shell Well #4 in sec. 32 in the west end of the field. Other wells followed and they produced several hundred barrels of 40 gravity oil but there was no market available. The whole oil industry was in the doldrums. No other wells were drilled until the big discovery in March 1935 by the Ohio Oil Company.
In taking a still deeper look, the company completed a well that produced over 2,000 barrels daily, the bulk of the oil coming from the basal Sundance sand which produced green oil at 47.5 BC gravity. Following the remarkable discover of high grade oil, Ohio Continental and Argo, the three major companies in the field, drilled more basal Sundance wells, all of which produced large quantities of oil and gas. The Continental Oil Company had just erected a modern gasoline extraction plant to extract the high gasoline content of the oil, thus giving more royalty to the already fortunate landowner.
The Ohio Oil persisted though and found production in the Tensleep sand. With the news, drilling began in earnest and by then Lance Creek was the largest producer of high grade crude oil in the Rocky Mountain region and fourth largest in the United States.
More people moved to Lance Creek, selling the population to around 2,000 people. It was the second largest community in the county. Sixty wells were producing in excess of 5,000,000 barrels of high grade oil a year. Of the wells drilled in 1938, only one was a dry hole. By this time, there were the large Continental and Ohio gas plants, and large repressuring plant at Continental, which forced the gas back in to the oil sand, which prolonged the life of the wells many years.
Drilling peaked in 1940
The most active drilling campaign in the history of Lance Creek came in 1940 when it led all other fields in the state with 65 wells drilled and 62 being completed for commercial production. Fifty-seven of the wells were completed the Pennsylvania of Minnelusa formation and five in the Sundance sands, although the last quarter of the year was at 939 figures. Other companies in the picture at this time were the Polumbus Oil Company and the Minnelusa Oil Co.
The unit, composed of Continental, Ohio and Argo Oil Companies had nine wells drilled for water five miles south of Lance Creek near the Jess York ranch, several of which were artesian wells. One well was a failure. The plentiful water supply eliminated the annual water shortage. The water that up to this time had been supplied by creek wells, was often muddy looking and so hard that the axe had to be sharpened every Saturday to break the bath water. A 6,000 barrel storage tank, 48 feet high was built on a hill west of the Gateway and is a sight visible for many miles.
Drilling activity was at its lowest in 1941 since the deep sand discovery in 1935. October 1941 was the first time since the unit was organized that there was no drilling report and a complete shutdown was made by the major companies.
A big Independence Day celebration in 1941 was held just south of Lance Creek on the Creek (now the Donald Johnson ranch) drawing between 1,500 to 2,000 people for a day of races, tug-of-war, softball games, picnic, rodeo and dance. It was the only celebration of the holiday in this part of the state.
After Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor, Niobrara county and Lance Creek swung into emergency action. Additional floodlights were installed and other measures taken against possible sabotage. Fears of the safety of loved ones who had been in the Pacific when war broke out caused much anxiety here. Home defense was rapidly perfected and scrap drives for paper, aluminum and iron were conducted on a regular basis.
The Superior Oil Company's Ong #1, drilled in 1943 was the deepest hole at 10,500 feet ever to be drilled in the state. The Minnelusa Oil Company put basements under several of the company houses to make storage space for all of the victory gardens being raised. The Ohio Oil company had people pushing the hills around to make room for more residences. Carter Oil (later Exxon) took over the Minnelusa property and Continental Oil Co. built the butane plant.
A rough area a few miles south of Lance Creek, known as the Lightning Creek field was established in 1946 as a small oil field. The exploration was done for uranium also, as wells are hidden in the sides of steep hills and the edges of ravines. They pump silently and you'd never know their presence if it wasn't for the winding roads leading to them.
An Oil Progress Day was observed in Lance Creek October 14, 1948 when all the oil companies - Continental Oil Company which had the largest holding in the field at this time and which operated the unit's gasoline recovery and pressure maintenance plants took the lead in the open house but both the Ohio Oil Company and the Argo Oil Company were open for inspection and tours were conducted throughout the day.
Production started dwindling in the field and the oil pool was put in the midst of a systematic water flooding program to gain all the production possible. The 1950's saw many families in Lance Creek being transferred to oil fields in other regions. As people moved out, so did the houses and little remains of the many camps that made up the Lance Creek community.
The people of the area used kerosene lamps of gaslights until the NEA came in 1949. The various oil companies and a few (others) had phones but it wasn't until 1961 that phones were available to everyone in the field. An experimental underground cable was laid by Mountain Bell which worked fine until it sprinkled and then phones were out for days at a time, but finally the bugs were worked out and the phones saved may a trip to town.
Many schools in area
There have been numerous schools in the Lance Creek area. A school was built in the Carbon Black Camp in the 1920's. This was moved to Camp 4 the summer of 1943 and the name changed to the East Lance Creek School. There was also a West Lance Creek school which is still in operation today under the name Lance Creek Elementary. A gymnasium was added to the main building in 1950 and is used today for community functions and school programs.
The main portion of the old school has been closed and a modular was put in front of the gym several years back. The area in early years was divided into two school districts #12 and #13 until the county-wide consolidation in 1954. A two year high school was located near where the junction of Highway 270 and 272 are now known. This school began in 1925 and in 1935, the 11th grade was added. That institution had in 1935, enrolled the largest number of students in years.
Missionaries of various denominations came to the field in the early years when weather would permit. Services were held in homes, bunkhouses, oil company halls and schoolhouses. In 1934, Mrs. Henry Stiles started a Sunday school at Lance Creek. At first the group was small, but when the attendance soared to 40, it was indeed a day of rejoicing. When the second oil boom began, an influx of children and adults came.
In 1940, a group of ladies organized for the purpose of securing a building. A small frame house was purchased and moved to a site just southeast of the Gateway. This "Little Chapel" on the hill served as a church building for 17 years. The cross nearby, which had become a landmark was destroyed by the 1984 tornado. Various ministers have served the Lance Creek Community Church. It moved to its present location in 1957 (this building has been a drug store and a cafe at one time) and in 1984, the church celebrated its 50th anniversary.
St. Leo's Catholic Church served the members of its parish well for a number of years but when Lance Creek lost so many residents the beautiful little church was torn down several years ago.
Many organizations were in the field over the years: Girl and Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Tanglefoot, Square Dance Club, Three Link Club, Black Gold and Sagebrush pals extension clubs, and numerous 4-H Clubs. The Lance Creek Lodge #13, I.O.O.F. was founded here on December 15, 1939. The Black Gold Rebekah Lodge #22 was instituted on March 9, 1940. The two groups worked hard at raising funds to build a new lodge hall and in Sept. 1949, their dreams were realized.
In later years, with members being transferred, the remaining members joined the Lusk lodges and turned the hall over to the gumbo Hustlers extension club who organized in 1950 to use and keep open as a community hall. The hall is no longer in use but the Gumbo Hustlers are still active as is the Lance Creek 4-H club that organized in 1971. The William D. McKibben VFW Post was founded Dec. 7, 1958 with the ladies auxiliary being instituted in 1959. This was later replaced with the Bryant-Kant VFW Post #10390.
The post office was established here November 19, 1919 with Francis J. Ragen as postmaster, followed by Oscar Gehlert, Opal Templeton, Thomas Strokes, Ina Gentry, Beryl Dickinson, Gladys Mangis and Bonna Blaney.
Air mail for county
In 1938, keeping in step with time, the Lusk Lions club sponsored the gathering of mail from all of the fourteen Niobrara County post offices on May 19. A special plan with Everett Hogan as pilot, flew to all the post offices that morning, transporting the mail by air to Lusk where it was placed aboard a mail plane from Cheyenne at the Lusk Airport.
This was the first time in the history of the United States Mail that all post offices of a single county were served by air mail. The post offices were Lance Creek, Kirtley, Whitman, Van Tassell, Spencer, Hat Creek, Jireh, Node, Lusk, Manville, Keeline, Dogie, and Leverette. Each post office had their own special cachet stamp to use on the letters. Buster Penfield will have carried mail to the north country 50 years in 1987.
Times change and so have the people and businesses in Lance Creek. Visitors who have come here in recent years can hardly believe it was the home of 1,500 to 2,000 people at one time but those who live here had just about all the businesses that Lusk and Manville had in the early years with the exception of a hotel. This writer learned only recently that there was indeed a bank at Lance Creek. It was a branch of the Jay Em Bank, called the Harris Bank and was housed in the hardware store operated by Lake Harris.
Those seeking recreation were able to play tennis, golf, shoot at the rifle range, go roller skating and ice skating, see a movie at the theater, go bowling, play pool or if you were lucky enough to have a plane, Lance Creek had its own airport, which is still used once in a while.
Along with the discovery of oil, there of course have been many tragedies. Accidents have been numerous, and that coupled with explosions and fires have claimed many lives over the years. Many buildings were lost to fires because the closest fire protection was Lusk. A pumper truck has been housed here in the past several years and has helped immensely in fighting grass fires and some buildings.
Life in the field has been good but now the oil is diminishing and drilling is almost at a standstill state wide. Will there be another boom for Lance Creek? We don't know, but there were other times when people didn't think so and Lance Creek came back.
Those businesses still in operation at Lance Creek are: Walt's Service and Supply - Walt Kant; Kant's Oil Field Service - Michael and Linda Kant; Pat's Conoco - Pat and Fran Kant; Updike Brothers, Inc. - Bob Graves, field foreman; Hoff's Water and Oil Service - Elmer and Millie Hoff; MacJac, In. - Jack and Carolyn Hammond; R. and S. Trucking - Rex Groves and Cliff Sides; and the Pronghorn Bar - Jim and Esther Groves.
A Lance Creek reunion was organized in 1974 by Irene Stiles, Anne Humphrey and Myra Sheaman. Over 350 people came to renew old acquaintances and memories. Now visitors who come and hear the stories about the field or maybe those who venture back once in a while to recall some of those old memories and look for the place they used to live, can picture in their minds what Lance Creek was way back when and what it will always be to some...HOME.
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